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Murray Proposes Deal To Lift Cap On Rideshare Cars In Seattle

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Ridesharing services like Sidecar, Uber and Lyft have won the first round in a battle to decide how regulate them in Seattle. There will be no cap on the number of drivers using these apps under a new proposed agreement announced by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Citing safety as his top priority, the mayor said he secured the services’ pledge to meet the same licensing and commercial insurance requirements that traditional taxi companies fulfill. In exchange, the mayor said, the services will be allowed to operate with no limits on the number of drivers they put on the road at any given time.

The proposed agreement would nullify regulation the council passed in March, capping the number of operating drivers at any given time at 150. The council must approve Murray’s deal.

The mayor said the agreement includes additional provisions to deregulate the taxi industry, including changes to allow taxi companies to more easily develop smartphone apps to connect with more customers.

“And we’re doing something that Seattle believes in and that is our core value: how to offer people an opportunity not to own a car or to only own one car, or to drive that car less,” Murray said.

The agreement also states the city will provide 200 new taxi licenses over the next four years. The mayor said proposed deregulations include removing a uniform dress code for drivers, and giving for-hire drivers hailing rights they don’t currently have — a big win for many in that group.

“We lost and we win,” said Abdul Yusef, a driver who represented the For Hire Drivers and Owners Association in the negotiations with the mayor.

Yusef said just being able to stay in business is a win on its own. Many taxi companies have seen their revenue drop since ridesharing services arrived in Seattle two years ago.

“We don’t know how that business will be. Going forward, we have to do a lot of work to compete,” he said. “But at least we will get the hailing rights that we did not have before, which is a very important part of the business.”

Yusef also praised “the property rights” taxi companies would get — a provision that makes Seattle taxi licenses more like medallions in other cities, and much harder to repeal.

The mayor, however, said that provision could make the agreement harder to get past the city council.

Council members must also agree to work with the industry and the state to clarify or change state insurance law to better reflect the realities of ridesharing companies. Colorado and California are considered models.

If the city council doesn’t pass this legislation before November, the threat of a referendum still looms. It would repeal the caps and put ridesharing companies back into the legal limbo in which they are currently operating. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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